“Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
Listen to the Sermon:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV
This is the word of the Lord which is given to us in love.
A few weeks ago, I watched a movie a movie called “Tortured for Christ”. It’s based on the true-life story of a pastor named Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor in Romania in the 1940s when the Soviet Union occupied Romania. When the Soviet soldiers entered his country, he risked his life on multiple occasions not to stay away from them, but to boldly share the gospel with them. He would find excuses to share the gospel with these Soviet soldiers who were occupying his homeland.
What really got him in trouble though was at a gathering of churches, where the communists were exerting more and more control over the churches, and he spoke out against that. Eventually he was arrested by the secret police on his way to lead a worship service for his church. He spent three years in solitary confinement underground where there was no light and there was no sound. The guards actually wore rubber soled shoes so that they would not be heard by him.
So, he spent all of his time in darkness and in silence. To keep his sanity and his faith he preached himself a sermon every day. Every day he would spend his time composing and preaching to himself a sermon, for three years, while he was in solitary confinement.
He stayed in prison eight and a half years. After which he was released, he was warned not to continue preaching the gospel. However, like the apostles before him, when Wurmbrand was released from prison he was warned not to preach the gospel, but he decided he must obey God rather than man and he continued preaching the gospel and he was arrested three years later. It was then he was tortured and mutilated, including a horrific torture where his feet the soles of his feet were beaten repeatedly so badly that he was never able to walk without difficulty again.
Eventually Christians raised money to ransom him, to buy him out of prison, and he spent the rest of his life advocating for martyrs around the world. Ge was the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, the organization who is in charge of this day of international prayer for the persecuted church.
I tell you that story first of all because I would encourage you to read the book on which it’s based, or to watch the movie. We have a copy in the library over there, it’s called “Tortured for Christ”. You can also get it free on Amazon Prime if you want to stream it that way.
It’s an excellent story, but the main reason I tell you this is to really understand what we’re dealing with when we consider our texts today. These are not just religious ideas, this is an issue of life and death. Literally of whether there will be life after death, whether there will be a resurrection of the dead.
If we ask ourselves why would Richard Wurmbrand ,why would the reformers not only write religious ideas, but give their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus? Why would anyone in any age in any culture throughout history give their life for the cause of Christ? The answer is that they were looking for something beyond this life. They were awaiting with expectation the hope that we have laid out in this passage, the resurrection of the dead.
Not a doubtful, “boy I hope that happens someday”, but a confident expectation that there will be life beyond this life, life beyond this world. So, because of that our big idea this morning is that The resurrection of Christ assures us of truthful preaching and powerful faith.
As we think about the resurrection of the dead and the life and death significance it bears on our own lives today, let’s look at how we’re going to study this passage. First Paul is going to lay out an assertion, the assertion which is the foundation for everything we have as Christians, not least of which are the two points that he’s going to draw from that, but the assertion is that Christ is raised from the dead. Everything begins there, Christ is raised from the dead.
Then he’s going to draw two particular implications, again the resurrection of Christ is the foundation for everything we have. The two particular implications that Paul pulls out are that we have, number one, true preaching and, number two, powerful faith
1. Christ is Raised from the Dead
2. True Preaching
3. Powerful Faith
Christ is Raised from the Dead
So, let’s look at what Paul says in verse 12. Laying out this basic foundational assertion that Christ is raised from the dead he writes,
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
1 Corinthians 15:12, ESV
What Paul is doing, which it’s important to understand, is he’s linking what he says here to what he just wrote in the previous paragraph, in verses 1 through 11 of this chapter. There Paul talked about his preaching, “if Christ is proclaimed”. If you look up the page just a little bit at verse 11 the word, we see in our Bibles is “preach”, or at least in my Bible. So, it’s a different English word that’s used here in verse 12, “if Christ is proclaimed”, but in both cases those are the same original word in Greek. Paul summarizes his preaching in verse 11, and now he’s talking about the preaching that he just laid out.
Well what did Paul preach? What did he proclaim? In verse 12, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised.” Well again, that was the content of Paul’s preaching that he talked about back in verse 4, that Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. This is what Paul was preaching, that Christ was raised.
Notice the way that Paul reminds us of what he has just talked to us about, but now turns the corner a little bit because he says something new in verse 12. “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead.” “Raised from the dead”, Paul didn’t use that phrase in the previous paragraph, in verses 1 through 11. Here he talks about the resurrection of Christ as being raised from the dead.
What this means is that Christ was not merely raised from death in an abstract way, whatever that might be. He was one of the dead, he was numbered among the dead ,he was a man who died like every other man before him and after him. What’s different is that unlike any other man or woman who died, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. His death was just like ours in that he died, and death held power over him in the grave. Yet his death was absolutely unlike ours because it was impermanent, because it was temporary, because before his body saw corruption God raised him from the dead.
So Paul is saying if this is true, if Christ is raised from the dead, how then can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? Now we don’t know why some in Corinth were saying this. Some people in Corinth were apparently saying, “well sure we believe that Christ is raised on the third day accordance with the scriptures”, but for whatever way they were saying that apparently they didn’t draw the connection that Christ’s death was a real death and therefore his resurrection was a resurrection of someone from the dead. Somehow, they weren’t connecting those concepts that Christ was just as dead as everyone else who has ever died, but it was from that that he was raised.
We don’t know why the Corinthians were saying that there is no resurrection from the dead, although the New Testament gives us several possibilities of what they might been thinking. We know from the gospels that there were Jewish reasons for saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. Not all Jews rejected the resurrection, but the Jewish Sadducees taught that there is no resurrection. We see this in several places for example Matthew 22:23.
We know there were not only Jewish reasons for rejecting the resurrection of the dead, but there were Greek reasons. When Paul went to Greece and he was in Athens and preaching to them, all those philosophical types love to hear new teaching and they gladly listened to Paul, until the point when he talked about the resurrection of the dead and then it fell apart. Then they started laughing at him and mocking him because this strange teacher is teaching us something about the resurrection of the dead, what a joke, what a silly thing to believe in. They thought, “we know that others taught that there was a resurrection but didn’t talk about it in the fullness of the idea of being raised from the dead like Paul was talking about here.”
So, for example, in 2 Timothy 2:16-18 Paul warns Timothy, a pastor. to confront the teaching of at least two people Hymenaeus and Philetus who taught that the resurrection had already taken place. Well certainly there’s a resurrection, but it’s already taken place, it’s not going to happen again, what we’ve seen has already happened, it’s already taken place. Paul says don’t let that spread, it’s going to spread like gangrene, like cancer, through the church to destroy the confidence of those who are awaiting the gospel promises of the full resurrection of the dead.
We know, fast forwarding 2000 years, that even in our day many continue to reject the resurrection of the dead, especially those who embrace a philosophy called materialism the belief that all that exists is simply what exists in the material world. If you can’t taste it, touch it, feel it, smell it, see it, measure it, then it isn’t real. So, for those reasons today people still reject the resurrection of the dead.
We don’t know why the Corinthians were teaching that there was no resurrection of the dead and we don’t know how many people were doing this or why it was being tolerated or to what degree was being tolerated, but Paul isn’t concerned about that so much. In fact, I think one of the reasons we don’t have the reasons that the Corinthians were teaching this is so that we can keep our focus on the necessity of the resurrection, without getting too bogged down in the Corinthians and why they were allowing this to go through their church.
Whatever the reason this is a devastating doctrine. If there is no resurrection from the dead, Paul says everything falls apart. Look what he says in verse 13.
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 1 Corinthians 15:13, ESV
If we’re talking about Jesus Christ’s death as a death of a man, just like our deaths when we go to die, and we’re talking about Christ’s resurrection from the dead as the resurrection of a man who is truly dead, then if there is no resurrection of the dead then that would exclude Christ from being raised from the dead. The consequences of that, if it were true, would be horrific.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV
This idea of in vain means empty or hollow. So, there’s a real tension, we should feel it. We’re not just here for the fun of it. Is our preaching hollow? Is our faith empty and without any real substance or reality to it? That’s what Paul is raising this question and that’s what was being talked about and believed by the Corinthians.
Well Paul goes on and to address these two questions, is the preaching true and is the faith powerful or are both of these in vain? Paul says absolutely it is not true, absolutely Christ is indeed raised from the dead. Therefore, in this second point, Paul says we have true preaching, in verses 15 and 16. The next thing Paul does in the second point where Paul talks about the truthfulness of the preaching is in verse 15, he says,
15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 1 Corinthians 15:15-16, ESV
What Paul is doing is he’s drawing this to the logical conclusion. He is saying if that’s true, if there is no resurrection the dead and therefore no resurrection of Christ, then we are found out, we’re found guilty of bearing false witness, of perjuring ourself against God Almighty. Saying that he raised the dead when he didn’t, if what you were saying is true, then we’re false witnesses.
Now what’s interesting about this is again Paul absolutely believes that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. He said in the previous passage that he was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ. What he is doing here is not simply teasing out the implications of this, although he is doing that, but he’s giving us an insight into what he thinks he is doing as an apostle.
Paul did not think that he was just an entertaining speaker. He didn’t think of himself as a speculative philosopher or an agitating activist or charismatic leader. Paul sees his work as doing nothing less than bearing witness, giving sworn testimony, about the work of God before the courtroom of the world as they listen to what he is bearing as eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To bear witness that a dead man has been raised up from the grave.
So what Paul is saying is not merely true, it is true, but he’s testifying about what God is doing and therefore he is testifying about real power the power of God unto salvation.
So now Paul is going to address not just the preaching, not just what he’s saying, but the faith in the preaching. The faith in what is proclaimed about Jesus Christ as raised from the dead, have they believed in vain?
Well this brings us to our third point, that no in fact they have powerful faith. In verses 17 through 19. Look what Paul says in 17-19,
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:17-19, ESV
Earlier Paul said that their faith would be in vain, hollow, empty, without substance. Now he says their faith is futile, it’s worthless, it is useless, it can’t do anything for them. Paul brings out a particular area where it is useless, namely it is useless in doing anything about your sins. Your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins if Christ is not raised.
The problems wouldn’t end there, in verse 18 he says, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” He’s saying, understand some people who believe in Jesus Christ as crucified and raised up have already died. These are the people who have fallen asleep and if they believed in a faith, that was in vain. If they had a faith that was futile, a faith that could not really deal with and put away their sins if Jesus Christ remains dead in the grave. If he suffered for our sins, but he was not powerful, he didn’t rise in victory over our sins, then he has nothing to offer not only to us but to those who have already died. If they died without any provision for their sins, any resurrection power over their sins, then they’ve perished.
The word here Paul isn’t saying merely that they died. That’s just to repeat what he’s already saying. He’s saying these are condemned to be tormented for all eternity in hell. That’s the consequence of not finding an atoning sacrifice and a resurrection power for our sins. If Christ didn’t die for our sins, and if he wasn’t raised up from the dead, then those who die in Christ have nothing to stand for, they have nothing to take away their sin. They have no righteousness to offer God and they will be tormented for all eternity in hell.
In fact in verse 19 Paul goes on to say that if the resurrection is not true then Christianity is nothing but harmful verse 19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only”, if this is just something that makes us feel good in the here and now, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” We have no hope in this life if that were true since we would continue to live under the condemnation of God against our sins. We would have no hope, not only in this life but in the life to come since there will be no life to come since we will die, perishing in eternal condemnation in hell forever.
Again, Paul is saying that’s what would be true if there were no resurrection from the dead, that’s what the consequences would be if Christ were not raised up for our justification. However, Christ was raised from the dead, so the opposite is true. Our faith is not empty, it’s not voids of substance, it is not idle, it is not worthless, it is not useless.
Your faith is powerful to save not because of you or the strength that you have in the faith that you exercise, but in the faith that allows you to receive the gifts that God gives you through his son Jesus Christ. Not only that, but you are not still in your sins if you have faith in Christ. By faith in Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us of our sins. That’s what we remind ourselves every week in the assurance of pardon. More than that, those who have died having faith in Christ have not perished, they are rather those who are asleep awaiting the day of the resurrection when they will come awake with Christ forever.
So, what all of this means is that since we have hope not in this life only, but in the life to come in Christ, then we are not of all people most to be pitied. Christianity is difficult. We’re told in the Bible that God will discipline us as his own children, that’s hard. More than that we are told that we have to lay off and forbear from indulging ourselves and all the pleasures of this world, that can be hard. More than that we are told that we are going to face opposition and persecution and maybe even death in this life, that’s very hard.
Yet we live not in the confidence of what we can experience for ourselves today, we live in confidence of a life to come. A confidence in the resurrection where we will be raised up to an eternity with Jesus Christ forever. This confidence is not built on our speculation, but on what God has already done. Just as Christ was raised, so also all of us who believe in him will be raised up with him for salvation.
Now what Paul is implying for this, if we think about how to take this and apply this to our lives, what Paul is saying is he’s giving us a gospel a hope, a confidence that should affect our lives drastically in at least three ways. Here are the ways to apply this in three ways.
1. We must believe in our crucified and resurrected savior the Lord Jesus Christ. We must believe in him. We have no hope except through faith in Christ. If you’re still working out what it means to be a Christian, thinking through what it might mean to be a Christian, understand Paul is telling us in no place clearer than he does right here what that would mean. Paul is telling us about what he was an eyewitness to.
He’s not making religious speculations. Anyone with a blog and a basement and enough time can offer religious speculations. Paul is not doing that. What Paul is doing is bearing faithful witness and testimony about what he saw. He was an eyewitness of this.
Now understand it’s one thing to be confident about something you speculate about. We do this all the time right? Everybody’s an expert on everything and we all will take to our grades, things that we really don’t know that much about, right? All of us are do that, we’re confident in things that we’ve never actually seen, that’s one thing. It’s another thing, however, to go to your grave to suffer and bleed and be beaten and left for dead and to die for something you know to be false.
Again, Paul’s not a speculator on religion, Paul is either truly an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the resurrected Christ himself, or he’s not. Either he saw Jesus raised from the dead or he didn’t. There’s no middle ground and Paul went to his death preaching and proclaiming that Christ was raised from the dead. He made the good confession before Caesar himself in Rome and was ultimately beheaded for his faith.
If that was false, then Paul is of all people most to be pitied. Paul says it wasn’t just me, there were 500 with me, and go ask them. We saw Jesus raised from the dead. This is true, a man was raised from the dead. If this is true then Paul’s preaching is not just information, it’s the power of God unto salvation. The Christ whom Paul preaches is powerful to save, to raise up from the dead those who have died just as he was raised from the dead, this isn’t pie in the sky, head in the clouds, religious fantasy.
We’re talking about a real event that took place in human history, that points forward in great expectation and confidence to a real event that will happen in the future. A human being was crucified, he died, and he was buried in a tomb for three days. That same human being really rose from the dead in a glorified human body.
This isn’t an inspiring idea to give us warm fuzzies, this is an announcement of God’s powerful work in this world to raise the dead and to reverse the entirety of the curse that’s brought into this world by sin, far as the curse is found. This is our confidence for the future that just as Christ was raised, so we will be raised up with him when he returns.
So, what Paul proclaims is that God has made a real accomplishment. He didn’t just make promises and give us empty words, he gave us substance, reality, something worthful not worthless. Something that can really do something about our sin and corruption and guilt and eventually our death. It’s the resurrection. That a solution has been made to human sin and suffering and death, it’s the resurrection that all those who look to Christ in faith will experience with him when he returns.
What’s more, this is not a message that’s just for those who’ve already believed in Christ. Maybe you think of Christianity as well there’s a group of people who are Christians and I guess they get this promise, but maybe I don’t, maybe I’m left out of this. What the gospel declares is that this message is true for even those who haven’t yet put their faith in Christ. It’s true that Jesus died for our sins and now he is raised up from the dead and he’s ascended into heaven where he is reigning as king at the right hand of his father. As king here is what he proclaims what he preaches by his word and his Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s this, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
This is the gospel proclamation for all those who have so far resisted his reigning, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. The question you have to ask is will you come to believe him today?
2. Well there’s a second way that this should drastically affect our lives. What this tells us is that we can live with confidence because of the resurrection. We can live in this life with confidence because of the resurrection. This has been a year that’s overturned any confidence we might have had in anything that this world has to offer, any comfort, any security, any satisfaction, any salvation.
Have you sought your confidence in health? Well here’s a pandemic that came out of nowhere. While if this is not perhaps quite as devastating as some thought, the next one could be. Do you have confidence in the government? Well this has been a year of upheaval and chaos and confusion, and let’s throw an election in to make things interesting. Have you sought confidence from the economy? This has been a year that has been devastating for the economy. Have you sought confidence from your social relationships? You’ve been distanced from those relationships for this year. This year is a confidence killer, if our hope and our confidence is in this life only.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, then we are of all people most to be pitied. The hope of the resurrection gives us a hope beyond this life, beyond this world. Because the hope of the resurrection the dead reminds us this world is not our home. Our ultimate goal in life, the reason for which we exist, the chief end of our existence, is not to squeeze everything we can from this life because this world is not our home, it’s slipping through our fingers like sand. Whatever happens in this world is fleeting and temporary and passing away, while it is eternity that would be long.
So what are your fears, what has you down, why are you frustrated, irritated, and angry? The hope of the resurrection lifts up your soul, it lifts your eyes beyond this world, beyond the chaos of this world, to confidence in the resurrection to come.
Let me put this in a litmus test perhaps as we’ve been looking at this passage, Paul is teasing out the implications. If the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, if Christ is not raised then our preaching is false, we’re misrepresenting God. If the dead are not raised, if Christ’s not raised then your faith is in vain, it is futile, you are still in your sins. Those who have died in Christ have perished and we are of all people most to be pitied.
Have you been more anxious about what would be the case if that were true or are you more anxious about what’s going to happen on Tuesday? Where is your confidence in this life? Is it in the kingdoms of this world and who’s in power or is in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ?
3. There’s a third way that this should drastically affect our lives. Not only that the resurrection gives us hope to live in this world, but also confidence that we can die in this world, that we can die with confidence in the resurrection. Today is a day where we’ve been reminded of and praying for all those who have who are in the midst of persecution, who are joining all those faithful witnesses. That’s what the word martyr means, someone who bears witness, who gives testimony. It’s the same word that Paul is using in this passage about bearing false witness against God. All those who bear witness about Christ, all the way to the point of death.
Many people in history, especially in the midst of the Reformation, gave their lives for Christ. Today we have brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, even to death, for their faith. We need to lift them up in prayer.
Again, why would any Christian willingly give up his life for Christ? The answer is because of our confidence in the resurrection. Those who give up their life to bear witness for Christ are not those who are living for this life but are those who are living for the next. Those who give up their lives are those who know that if they have all the pleasures, all the riches, all the relationships that this world has to offer it will all be for nothing if they do not have Christ.
As Jesus puts it in Mark 8:36
36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Mark 8:36, ESV
On the other hand, if we forfeit, not Christ or our souls, but if we forfeit this world for the sake of Christ then we seek to gain everything, to profit everything from the life to come. Brothers and sisters, we need to understand that all of us who seek to faithfully follow Jesus will face persecution of one kind or another.
Paul tells us this in 2 Timothy 3:12 indeed all those who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. That’s going to happen to some degree or another, but it may even be that some of us sitting here today will face the kind of persecution that so many have faced before, so many are facing right now. The choice of whether we will be faithful to Jesus Christ and make the good confession, just as Jesus made the good confession before Pontius Pilate, just as so many have given the good confession about Jesus Christ in order to be put to death.
So also we may have the choice, do we choose Jesus and confessing Christ before a hostile world or do we choose whatever we have to gain in this life, in this world? Understand the time to make that decision is now. The time to make that decision is when we’re here and studying God’s word because if the word is not hidden in our hearts, then we’ll be toast when it comes to withstanding the persecution of God.
Unless God gives us supernatural strength. one of the fascinating things I learned from this movie of Richard Wurmbrand is that he prepared for persecution by memorizing 366 verses against fear. So, he had a verse against fear to recite every day of the year. In fact, the day of when he was arrested was February 29th, a leap year, so he had one extra verse for that day when he went into persecution to recite for himself before he suffered for Christ.
The best way to prepare for the possibility of persecution is by dying to this world every day. To die to yourself and to die to the world. Are you living for this world or dying for this world? Or are you living for Christ in the hope that when you die, he will raise you up to newness of life, to the resurrection life, not in a temporary world that’s falling apart but in a world that is secure and unshakeable forever and ever. Is your hope in what you can squeeze from this world now or is it in the resurrection of Christ for all eternity?
Brothers and sisters through the gospel of Jesus Christ let us live with confidence in the resurrection that we may live with confidence and die with confidence.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father we ask that you would give us confidence in the resurrection of Christ to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ who made the good confession. Who didn’t worry about his death, who sought out the joy that was set before him and despised the shame and the suffering of the cross, as he awaited the joy of the resurrection. We pray that that would be our hope, our lives, our outlook as well. We pray this for Christ’s glory and for our good. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.